Los Angeles With apologies to strong against-type performances in films like "The Grifters" and "Eight Men Out," John Cusack has built a career on playing modern men with very specific ideas about modern romance.
In turn, Cusack characters like Gib in "The Sure Thing," Rob in "High Fidelity" and - best of all - Lloyd in "Say Anything," have educated a generation of young males in a specific post-Redford kind of somewhat ironic, entirely self-aware brand of making woo. A bestselling book could be written on his movies and John Cusack's Rules of Love.
"Yeah, but they're wrong," Cusack laughs now. "They're always wrong."
It's true that the typical Cusack hero has to lose the girl - often in the most emotionally goring way possible - before finding happiness. Yet, despite those regular failings and despite the actor's regular attempts to branch out, he's become forever associated with a single character type.
"Women keep telling us, 'I wish John would only make these kinds of movies because I love him in these kinds of movies,"' says Suzanne Todd, one of the producers of "Must Love Dogs," Cusack's latest effort in the genre.
Must Love Dogs * 1/2
The first thing one has to do is suspend all disbelief and assume that Diane Lane is incapable of finding a date on her own. What's harder is ignoring the fact that beneath the pedigree of its director (sitcom veteran Gary David Goldberg) and the weight of its cast (which includes John Cusack) beats the heart of a hackneyed chick flick.
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Cusack has often admitted to taking certain obvious crowd pleasers - appealing, but unremarkable films like "America's Sweethearts" or "Serendipity" - to then use his stature to assist darker, more independent-minded productions like "Being John Malkovich" or "Max." He chafes at the idea of typecasting, though.
"It seems to be this one thing that people do over and over again which is to try and figure out how to get married, stay married, fall in love, how to rekindle all of this stuff," Cusack explains. "It seems to me to be a pretty eternal thing. So I don't think that you can get typecast into making movies about men relating to women. That kinda seems to be what happens on this planet a lot."
In "Dogs," Cusack plays Jake, an old-fashioned guy whose ethos will be familiar to the actor's devotees. Hurt once too often in love, Jake has retreated into repeated viewings of David Lean's classic "Doctor Zhivago," fearing that the ideal cinematic romance is more satisfying than anything in real life. That all changes when he meets equally lovelorn preschool teacher Sarah (Diane Lane). It's no accident that Jake sounds like something of an evolution of Lloyd or Lane Meyer. Ask Cusack's co-star what he brings to his movies and the answer is swift and warm.
"A lot of rewrites," Lane replies, before adding other adjectives like "freedom," "levity" and "confidence."
Television veteran Gary David Goldberg, who wrote and directed "Dogs," estimates that around half of Cusack's performance came from his own script additions and ad libs.
"I would never deny John Cusack anything that he wanted to do," Goldberg says. "He is an absolute prince. He had some thoughts about this character much deeper and better than mine. I had constructed a much more generic guy."
Surely Cusack, the romantic movie legend and personal script doctor, has some quality recommendations for male readers, or the possibility of hope for females.
"Do I have dating advice?" he ponders. "No. I don't have any dating advice. Except endurance is more important than truth. I don't know what that means, but it sounds cool."
"Must Love Dogs" hits theaters nationwide today.